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Three questions the Cleveland Cavaliers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 51-31, won the Eastern Conference out of the second seed, lost to Warriors in NBA Finals.

I know what you did last summer: It was a busy summer of roster changes, something you don’t usually see from a team that has been to three straight Finals. Kyrie Irving didn’t want to be the guy left behind if LeBron James bolts the team next summer, so he pushed for a trade. New GM Koby Altman struck a deal that sent Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Brooklyn first-round pick in the upcoming draft. In the past week, the Cavaliers signed Dwyane Wade as a free agent (after his buyout from Chicago). Gone from the Cavaliers are Deron Williams and James Jones, but the team added depth with the trade and the additions of free agents Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Jose Calderon.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CAVALIERS MUST ANSWER

1) When does Isaiah Thomas get back on the court? And how well can he move? The trade with Boston was a perfect combination for Cleveland of keeping an eye on the future (the Brooklyn pick) and still winning now in LeBron’s prime by getting All-NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas — if Thomas is healthy. Which he is not right now. The hip injury that ended his playoff run early still has him sidelined.

When will he return? On media day the Cavaliers were honest and said January. About halfway through the NBA season. Which creates a challenge for those first 40 games or so (see the next question) but is not insurmountable because the Cavaliers have one LeBron James.

The bigger question: How good will Isaiah Thomas be when he does return? I fear we saw peak Thomas last season, when he was an All-NBA player and fifth in MVP voting. How well with Thomas move when he returns, how explosive will he be? Can he be anything like the spark plug point guard we have come to know? His game is based on that athleticism and crafty moves, if those are limited so is he. It matters to Cleveland as they try to integrate him into the offense for the playoffs — if they get 90 percent of that Thomas it is a big boost for the Cavs, but if it’s 70 percent things get tougher. How he bounces back also matters to Thomas, who is a free agent after this season and needs to show he is healthy to get paid anywhere near what he wants.

2) Cleveland has a lot of talent, but does it fit together? On paper, the Cavaliers are deeper this season — Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose at the point, J.R. Smith, Dwyane Wade, and Kyle Korver at the two, Jeff Green behind LeBron on the wing, Jae Crowder adding to Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson up front. There’s a reason I — and many others — are still picking the Cavaliers to come out of the East.

But when you start to put rotations together, things get harder, because all the talent doesn’t fit together well, especially for the first half of the season when Thomas is out. For example, can the Cavaliers really play Rose and Wade together with LeBron? Neither Rose nor Wade are good off the ball, they need the rock in their hands to create to do damage, but neither of them is near the creator or floor general LeBron is. Do the Cavs take the ball out of LeBron’s hands in this scenario? Remember, this is not the Wade from LeBron’s first couple seasons in Miami, this is a guy on the decline who can still create but is limited in other ways. Plus, both Rose and Wade (and Thomas when he returns) are limited defensively.

I like what Tyronn Lue is doing to start games: Rose, J.R. Smith, LeBron, Jae Crowder, and Kevin Love. That is a switchable and passable defensive lineup that will have great floor spacing on offense. Rose can create a little, but most of that should still fall to LeBron. It gets better when Thomas is back and Rose can go to the second unit with Wade — those two can do the shot creating and scoring with that group against other benches, and Tristan Thompson can handle the defense and dirty work with that unit. (Credit Thompson for taking his move to the second unit, which most would see as a demotion, as an opportunity.)

Cleveland has the talent to beat 28 other teams in a seven-game series, but the questions of fit come back to haunt them against their biggest foe. If the Cavs are still playing in June.

3) Does the “is LeBron staying?” saga weigh on the team? Probably not. Or at least not much. This is a team of veterans who know how to shut out the noise from the outside.

However, every move this team and LeBron make all season will be viewed through the prism of “what does this say about LeBron’s future?” And if for whatever reason this team gets off to a relatively slow start and things start to go sideways, that pressure will ramp up. If that losing starts to creep into the locker room — J.R. Smith and Crowder get into it again, Thompson gets frustrated with his bench role, or a million other things — then it becomes a problem. I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but it’s possible. This could be LeBron’s final season in Cleveland, and that certainly can become an issue.

Chris Paul: “I never asked for a trade” and says he’s happy to be in Houston

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With Golden State laid low by injuries (and maybe a defection), Houston should be the team stepping to the front of the line saying “it’s our turn” in the West.

Instead, the Rockets two stars — James Harden and Chris Paul — are feuding, ownership is turning coach Mike D’Antoni into a lame duck, and everyone without a fantastic beard hears their name in trade rumors.

The Harden/Paul feud is real, but Paul tried to downplay it at a charity event in Los Angeles over the weekend, denying a trade request and saying he was happy to be in Houston, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“I never asked for a trade,” Paul said. “I never demanded a trade.”

“I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”

The report goes on to note Paul was asked if he had to work things out with Harden and he kind of danced around that question but said the issues were around a season-ending loss. Certainly, two straight years of being bounced by the Warriors has the Rockets frustrated. However, there is also a style issue: Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul can’t be as efficient that way anymore and prefers a more fluid offense (and more pick-and-roll for him). Coach D’Antoni gives a lot of leeway to Harden.

Harden and Paul need to work their issues out because Paul is nearly untradable (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener with a pick or young player). Paul still has value on the court — a master floor general he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. There simply are not teams interested in trading for Paul.

Houston could head into next season the favorites in the West. Part of that depends on how things shake out in free agency (does Kawhi Leonard come West, for example), but a lot of it is just the Rockets getting their act together. I expect Paul and Harden to figure things out, at least well enough to make it work. Mostly because they don’t have a choice. Paul isn’t going anywhere, whether he asked to leave or not.

 

Zion Williamson on Pelicans: ‘I’m ready to stay here’ (VIDEO)

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Zion Williamson is finally, officially a New Orleans Pelican. David Griffin and the Pelicans front office selected Williamson No. 1 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft on Thursday.

Now, we just have to wait for the Anthony Davis trade to be official and we can put this whole thing behind us.

Meanwhile, Williamson has been celebrating. According to TMZ, he had a big pizza party with his friends after the draft in New York. Williamson has since reported to the team in Louisiana, where he’s already saying all the right things to the media.

Speaking during a team event, Williamson said that something just hit him and that it was a gut feeling that he was glad to be in New Orleans.

“This is my home,” said Williamson. “I’m ready to stay here.”

Via Twitter:

Williamson could also be seen getting recommendations for the excellent cuisine in the Bayou.

As No. 1 overall picks and future franchise cornerstones go, Williamson already seems to have the temperament of a guy who’s willing to take over from the last one in Davis.

Watch NBA draftees try to identify pop culture from the ’90s (VIDEO)

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Millennials are the last kids to have grown up without constantly having a phone in their hands. The internet was not always available much of that generation, and that’s shifted largely for Gen Z. It’s a curiosity not just to consider the real social skill impact of mobile communication being a constant for kids born after 1996, but for how they intake media and pop culture as well.

Enter the 2019 NBA draft class.

In recent video posted by ESPN, 2019 draftees had to name pop culture items from the 1990s. Present were things like the Easy-Bake Oven, Super Nintendo, music group Destiny’s Child, and movies like “Boyz n the Hood”.

This is where my understanding of how folks intake pop culture really falls apart. Particularly because what I assumed was widespread knowledge was apparently… not.

Many of the draftees couldn’t identify the Super Nintendo system, one of the most popular video game systems of all-time and one that was re-released in miniature “classic” form in 2017. Even further, several couldn’t identify Destiny’s Child, with Beyonce standing front and center. Beyonce!

Most surprising? Nearly all shown in the video could identify “Good Burger” a Nickelodeon skit from “All That” that was turned into a movie in 1997.

For reference, just four of the first 30 players selected in the 2019 draft were older than 22. That means none of them were really old enough to have lived through the skit-into-movie phase of the Keenan Thompson-Kel Mitchell vehicle (as yours truly did).

It stands to reason — for the uninformed — that if you could identify a Nickelodeon movie from 1997 you could identify Beyonce (who headlined Coachella just last year) or a fanny pack (a very “in” fashion accessory in 2019 as a cross-body bag for men).

Via Twitter:

People on Twitter were noticeably upset, particularly with the draftees’ inability to identify Outkast. That doesn’t really surprise me, as I’m not sure Outkast is as timeless as people from my generation think it is. But how can you not identify a Super Nintendo? Andre 3000 and Big Boi sold 25 million records together. They’ve sold 49 million Super Nintendos worldwide. Haven’t these dudes been clicking around on the internet since they were six years old? It feels like a Super Nintendo should have crossed their timelines at some point.

I’m not from the ‘60s or ‘70s but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t identify a Lite Brite or a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots if need be.

Pop culture and how people intake them is so interesting. This video baffles me.

Report: Kawhi Leonard ‘seriously considering’ re-signing with the Raptors

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Kawhi Leonard won another NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors this season. We are now in the thick of the offseason, with free agency fast approaching. That means we are waiting to see what Leonard will do from here on out. Will he return to the Raptors? Or will he take another suitor—potentially the Los Angeles Clippers?

As expected, Leonard has reportedly opted out of the final year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent.

The good news for Raptors fans is that Leonard is reportedly interested in staying in Canada long-term. Toronto can offer him a 5-year, $190 million contract.

Via Chris Haynes of Yahoo:

The appeal of returning home to Southern California is enticing to the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, but with the trust the Raptors built while Leonard led the franchise to its first NBA title by upsetting the Golden State Warriors, rival executives view his current team as the favorite to land him when the free-agent negotiating period begins June 30, sources said.

What NBA stars want and do is anyone’s guess in 2019. It’s hard to predict where these players will end up signing until the moment the ink has dried on the paper.

Many felt as though it would take a championship for Leonard to remain with Toronto past the season. That’s exactly what he delivered, and the team around him appears to be poised to dominate the Eastern Conference should he stay past this year.

Chaos in the NBA is always fun, but Raptors fans have stuck in with this team for a long time and it would be nice to see the “little” guys win one for once. We have already seen Anthony Davis force his way to Los Angeles, and not every major star needs to be centered in New York or L.A.

Kawhi should stay, and I hope he does.